January 27, 2015
January 16, 2015
Margaret Cho gets into hot water with the perpetually offended for dressing up as a North Korean general:
Korean-American comedian Margaret Cho did an impression of a North Korean general at the Golden Globes that many on Liberal Twitter attacked as racist because apparently not even people of Korean descent are allowed to make fun of Kim Jong Un.
In one of many jokes aimed at the recent Sony cyber-hack, Cho wore a Korean general costume and made fun of the lack of spectacle at the event:
“You no have thousand baby playing guitar at the same time. You no have people holding up many card to make one big picture,” she said in a thick accent. “You no have Dennis Rodman.”
Predictably, people went nuts.
The Guardian editor-in-chief Katharine Viner said Cho was “like, totes racist.” Time deputy tech editor Alex Fitzpatrick questioned how anyone could have seen the bit as anything but “broadly racist.” The International Business Times managing editor called the decision to allow it a “bad call.” And that’s just to name a few.
Cho defended herself, tweeting: “I’m of mixed North/South Korean descent — you imprison, starve and brainwash my people you get made fun of by me #hatersgonhate.”
January 15, 2015
January 8, 2015
At The Federalist Robert Tracinski nominates perhaps the most appropriate candidate for media
man of the year:
As the year winds to a close, it is traditional to pick a “man of the year,” or in our more enlightened age, a “person of the year.” I’ve never done that before, but this year there is one candidate who has left his mark so indelibly on 2014 that I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge his vast influence.
Thus, my own personal pick for 2014′s Person of the Year: Ben Trovato.
He has been everywhere and had a hand in just about every big story, from Ferguson to the University of Virginia. He has been most active in his usual fields, journalism and politics, but we can see his impact as far afield as espionage and even retail.
You’ve never heard of him? Maybe so, but you already know him very well.
For those who suspect that Ben Trovato is not a real, literal person, you’re right. But the whole point of old Ben’s influence is that it doesn’t matter whether he’s literally real. Or whether anything is literally real, for that matter.
I first heard of Ben Trovato while reading a curious little volume of unusual word origins. A number of these supposed etymologies, most of the really colorful ones, were attributed to “Ben Trovato.” The name is taken from an old Italian saying: se non è vero, è ben trovato. Roughly translated: if it’s not true, it’s a good story. These were the kind of word origins that you really wanted to be true, but for which there was no real evidence. In contemporary parlance, they are “too good to check.”
I think you can begin to see why 2014 has been the year of Ben Trovato. It has been a year full of things that were non vero, but which had really good narratives. Or at least really convenient narratives.
December 30, 2014
At Samizdata, Patrick Crozier explains how the cost of a new technology and the union work rules of the 1960s led to so many great (and not-so-great) British TV shows being lost to posterity:
Something like two fifths of the Doctor Who episodes produced before 1970 are “missing” from the BBC archive. Although it is now 20 years since I found out about it, I still find it difficult to believe that such an act of cultural vandalism was allowed to take place. But it was.
So why are so many missing? In Wiped! Richard Molesworth describes the whole sorry tale in exhaustive (and some times exhausting) detail. It begins with Doctor Whos being recorded on videotape. In the 1960s videotape was a new technology and as such, expensive. Broadcasters were understandably keen to re-use the tapes whenever they could.
Another factor in this was the deal that the BBC had made with the actors’ union Equity. Younger readers may be unfamiliar with this but in the 1960s and 1970s unions were extraordinarily powerful. The deal between Equity and the BBC meant that an episode could only be repeated for two years and after that only with Equity’s specific permission. So, you’d have a situation where after 2 years you would have videotapes that effectively could not be broadcast and an engineering department banging on the door demanding they be allowed to wipe them. As a consequence every single inch of 1960s Doctor Who was wiped. It was far from alone. Episodes of Top of the Pops, the Likely Lads, Not only but also…, Z-Cars, Til death us do part and many others met a similar fate.
In the interests of fairness I should point out that when it came to wiping TV programmes the BBC was far from the only offender. There is almost nothing left of the first season of the Avengers for instance. Or Sexton Blake. About half of the highly-rated Callan (played by Edward Woodward) is also missing. However, all the Saints and Danger Mans are still with us. Meanwhile, my understanding is that most American TV, even from the 1950s still exists.
And compounding the problem … even when the BBC wanted to get rid of old episodes of TV shows, they still held the copyrights:
One thing that particularly sticks in my craw is the fact that even after the BBC did everything in its power to destroy these episodes it still has copyright to them. This has some very peculiar effects as I shall explain.
As I said, many episodes no longer exist as films or tapes. But all the audios exist (recorded off-air by fans), as do the scripts and a large number of photographs, otherwise known as “tele-snaps”. Over the years a cottage industry has grown up assembling these disparate elements into what are known as “reconstructions”. Now, they’re not very good and they are really only for the dedicated fan – people like me in other words – but right now they are the best we’ve got. Sadly, these too are affected by BBC copyright. For many years they were only available on videotape and on a non-profit basis. The producers were wary of annoying the BBC. And then one day someone (quite reasonably you’d think) decided to start putting them up on YouTube. Oh dear, the BBC really didn’t like that. Not only did they force YouTube to take a whole load of them down but seem to have closed down the reconstruction business temporarily if not permanently. Bastards.
December 28, 2014
I think it’s safe to say he wasn’t bowled over … at least not in a good way:
Ms. Dunham is 28. I was under the impression that “girls” is a demeaning term for adult women. The title must have something to do with this hipster “Irony” thing, which I confess I don’t understand. The root of the word irony is in the Greek eironeia, “liar.”
I had my 14-year-old daughter, Poppet, instruct me in how to watch an episode of Girls on my computer. (Turns out “content” is not completely “free.”)
Two seconds into the opening credits I was trying to get my daughter out of the room by any means possible. “Poppet! Look in the yard! The puppy’s on fire! Quick! Quick! Run outside and roll him in the snow!”
It turns out Girls is a serialized horror movie — more gruesome, frightening, grim, dark, and disturbing than anything that’s ever occurred to Stephen King.
I have two daughters, Poppet and her 17-year-old sister Muffin. Girls is about young people who are only a few years older than my daughters. These young people, portrayed as being representative of typical young people, reside in a dumpy, grubby, woeful part of New York called Brooklyn, where Ms. Dunham should put her clothes back on.
I lived in New York for fifteen years. No one had been to Brooklyn since the Dodgers left in 1957.
The young people in Girls are miserable, peevish, depressed, hate their bodies, themselves, their life, and each other. They occupy apartments with the size and charm of the janitor’s closet, shared by The Abominable Roommate. They dress in clothing from the flophouse lost-and-found and are groomed with a hacksaw and gravel rake. They are tattooed all over with things that don’t even look like things the way a anchor or a mermaid or a heart inscribed “Mom” does, and they’re only a few years older than my daughters.
The characters in Girls take drugs. They “hook up” in a manner that makes the casual sex of the 1960s seem like an arranged marriage in Oman. And they drink and they vomit and they drink and they vomit and they drink and they vomit.
It’s every parent’s nightmare. I had to have a lot to drink before I could get to sleep after watching this show about young people who are only a few years older than my daughters.
Consternation has also been caused because Ms. Dunham admits to, as a child, having done with her younger sister what used to be obliquely called “playing doctor,” leading her to be condemned for trivializing sexual assault.
And I’m supposed to have an opinion about all this.
My opinion is that Lena Dunham created and stars in a television series on HBO called Girls, about young people who are only a couple of years older than my daughters.
I’m looking into Women-only military schools run by strict nuns for Poppet and Muffin. I think there’s one in the Philippines.
December 23, 2014
Oh, he’s nostalgic enough:
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special. For those remembering how they stared with wonder and awe at the jerky stop-motion animation and shivered with delicious fear at the perils faced by the plucky buck with the incandescent schnoz, the notion that this program occurred a half century ago would be a marvelous testament to the enduring power of the show’s appeal … if it didn’t make you feel so damned old.
If it does, that is. For young kids today it’s a cultural artifact from a time so remote it might as well be the Renaissance. The snowman’s resemblance to Burl Ives doesn’t make them think of a hefty folkie howling with alcoholic rage in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; the concept of a “misfit” doesn’t echo a decade of neurotic intellectual culture celebrating the outsider who couldn’t find his place in the grey-flannel machinery.
It’s charming and tuneful and justly revered. So let’s spoil it by overthinking the details and applying the corrosive idiocy of modern standards, shall we? Herewith a few points to consider.
– Kids today are appalled by the brusque coach who regards Rudolph as a freak and clearly sides with the normal reindeer youth. Nowadays the character would recognize Rudolph’s specialness right away, and the entire show would have been about his fight to get Rudolph on the team, culminating in an impassioned speech before a congressional committee and the passage of Rudolph’s Law.
By the way, when I was a kid we understood the coach character’s nasty reaction — not because we sympathized with him, but because phys-ed teachers were jerks.
– The Abominable Snowman. Let us be frank: The moment when Rudolph sets out on a floe to draw the Snowman away from his friends is one of the more noble moments of childhood television, married with dismay: You know he had no chance. To a small child who has finally grasped the narrative, it was really scary, because Rudolph was going to die.
Parents watching along may have wanted to say “See what happens when you run off with your weird friends? This is what happens. You break your mother’s heart and your intestines are slurped up by a murderous albino.”
December 14, 2014
Apparently, the fear was that US TV audiences would be shocked by authentic sized boasting pieces:
They may have been the crowning glory for any right-thinking Tudor gentleman, but it appears the traditional codpiece may be a little too much for American television viewers.
The stars of Wolf Hall, the BBC’s new period drama based on the novels of Hilary Mantel, have disclosed they have been issued with “smaller”-than average codpieces, out of respect for viewers’ sensibilities.
Mark Rylance, who stars as Thomas Cromwell in the forthcoming BBC series, said programme-makers had decided on “very small codpieces” which had to be “tucked away”.
He suggested allowances had been made amid concerns about the taste of modern audiences, particularly in America, who “may not know exactly what’s going on down there”.
It is one of few concessions permitted by programme-makers, who have otherwise gone to remarkable lengths to ensure historical accuracy, including trips to Shakespeare’s Globe to learn sword-fighting, lessons in etiquette and bowing, and a comprehensive study on spoons.
Mantel has given her seal of approval to the production, issuing a statement of glowing praise for how it has been adapted on screen.
Saying she was pleased programme-makers had resisted the temptation to “patronise” the Tudors to make them “cute”, she said: “My expectations were high and have been exceeded.”
When asked about the costumes in a Q&A to launch the BBC show, alongside actors Damian Lewis and Claire Foy, Rylance said they “did take a while to put on” but praised the overall effect.
“I think the codpieces are too small,” he added. “I think it was a direction from our American producers PBS [the US public service broadcaster] – they like very small codpieces which always seemed to be tucked away.”
When asked to clarify, he said: “I wasn’t personally disappointed by the codpieces: I’m a little more used to them than other people from being at the Globe for ten years.
“But I can see for modern audiences, perhaps more in America, they may not know exactly what’s going on down there.”
H/T to David Stamper for the link(s).
December 7, 2014
December 6, 2014
… and now here’s Kathy Shaidle saying the same thing:
“By Grabthar’s Hammer…” but also “It’s real.”
And when they torture the little alien.
Oh, man. I’m tearing up just typing that.
If Star Wars had been this good, I’d have been a fan.
One day people will realize that Galaxy Quest is the better movie, like they’ll realize that Goodfellas is better than The Godfather and Psycho is better than Vertigo.
“By Grabthar’s Hammer” was a temp line. It was basically the Hammer of Thor, but Grabthar just sounded so silly. I kept meaning to change it, but around the production offices, they started to make t-shirts, it started to sink in a little bit.
Harold Ramis was initially supposed to direct.
He wanted either Alec Baldwin or Kevin Kline for the Tim Allen role. But Allen being a recovering alcoholic f-up in real life really adds to his performance.
Uploaded on 20 Oct 2006
This is the mockumentary on Galaxy Quest that aired on E! before the movie came out. It’s about the fake show’s 20th anniversary and everybody’s in character. The quality is kind of sketch but this is crazy rare. Credit goes to britbitsandclips.com.
November 8, 2014
From this week’s Goldberg File email newsletter [Update: it’s now online]:
In Men in Dark Times Hannah Arendt says, “Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it … it brings about consent and reconciliation with things as they really are.”
This, naturally, brings to mind that great episode of the Brady Bunch “Adios, Johnny Bravo.” This YouTube video summarizes the tale expertly, but since you might be at work and are reluctant to get caught watching Brady Bunch videos (again) at the office, I will summarize. Greg Brady, scion of House Brady, is offered a contract from a record label. At first he is reluctant to sign on because he’s a loyal member of his family band. But the record producers convince him that he owes it to himself to be all he can be. They want him to become the new smash-hit sensation “Johnny Bravo.”
The role of Johnny Bravo comes complete with a sensational matador-themed costume and a rented gaggle of winsome young ladies ready to tear it off on command (very much like the job of senior editor here at National Review). The producers promise that he won’t simply be in the Top 20, he’ll be the Top 20. “Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride,” they tell him. It would be a tempting offer for any young man.
After much soul-searching, Greg agrees to become Johnny Bravo. That is, until he finds out that the producers don’t much care about his musical talent. Through the wizardry of music production — long before the advent of AutoTune — they twist his vocal stylings to what the market wants, not what Greg’s muse has on offer. “That’s not the way I sound!” Greg protests.
The producer retorts, “You? Now c’mon baby, don’t get caught up on an ego trip. I mean who cares how you sound? We’re after the sound.”
If you don’t care about my sound, what do you need me for? Greg asks.
“Because you fit the suit,” another producer responds.
Putting the O in BravO
Forgive me for committing the error of defining my meaning. But Barack Obama fits the suit.
In my USA Today column this week, I argued that Barack Obama is indisputably good at one thing: Getting elected president of the United States.
That’s it. He’s not good at being president of the United States. He’s not good at being the head of his party. He’s not good at diplomacy or public policy or managing large bureaucracies. He has no new ideas. But man did he fit the suit, metaphorically speaking.
I realize this runs against the grain of a lot of right-wing thinking — that Obama is really a secret Muslim-Marxist radical biding his time to seize the means of production and impose sharia. Well, the clock is running out on that theory.
I have no doubt that Obama’s more left-wing in his heart than he is in his speeches and public priorities. But my basic point is that Obama doesn’t realize that his electoral success was a function of the media age we are in. He fit the part. He said the right words. He was an anti-George W. Bush when lots of people desperately wanted an anti-George W. Bush. He was black, cool, and eggheady in just the right way. Voting for Obama made lots of people feel good about themselves — which is a terrible reason to vote for anybody. Media elites and average Americans alike were seduced because they wanted to be seduced.
They — starting with Obama himself — believed the hype. And he still does.
He’s like modern-day Johnny Bravo lip-synching an auto-tuned song about “keeping it real” and he thinks he’s actually keeping it real. He goes around talking about how much he hates talking points and sound-bites, how much he loathes cynicism and ideology. And yet, he does all this in talking points and sound-bites packed like verbal clown cars with ideology and cynicism.
November 4, 2014
Think today’s ads on TV are irritating? You ain’t seen nothing yet:
I’ve discussed in the past how many people mistake privacy as some sort of absolute “thing” rather than a spectrum of trade-offs. Leaving your home to go to the store involves giving up a small amount of privacy, but it’s a trade-off most people feel is worth it (not so much for some uber-celebrities, and then they choose other options). Sharing information with a website is often seen as a reasonable trade-off for the services/information that website provides. The real problem is often just that the true trade-offs aren’t clear. What you’re giving up and what you’re getting back aren’t always done transparently, and that’s where people feel their privacy is being violated. When they make the decision consciously and the trade-off seems worth it, almost no one feels that their privacy is violated. Yet, when they don’t fully understand, or when the deal they made is unilaterally changed, that’s when the privacy is violated, because the deal someone thought they were striking is not what actually happened.
The amount of data this thing collects is staggering. It logs where, when, how, and for how long you use the TV. It sets tracking cookies and beacons designed to detect “when you have viewed particular content or a particular email message.” It records “the apps you use, the websites you visit, and how you interact with content.” It ignores “do-not-track” requests as a considered matter of policy.
To some extent, that’s not really all that different than a regular computer. But, then it begins to get creepier:
It also has a built-in camera — with facial recognition. The purpose is to provide “gesture control” for the TV and enable you to log in to a personalized account using your face. On the upside, the images are saved on the TV instead of uploaded to a corporate server. On the downside, the Internet connection makes the whole TV vulnerable to hackers who have demonstrated the ability to take complete control of the machine.
More troubling is the microphone. The TV boasts a “voice recognition” feature that allows viewers to control the screen with voice commands. But the service comes with a rather ominous warning: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.” Got that? Don’t say personal or sensitive stuff in front of the TV.
You may not be watching, but the telescreen is listening.
November 3, 2014
In The Federalist, Robert Tracinski responds to last month’s Reason.tv list of the top five anti-libertarian TV shows with a stirring defence of Star Trek:
… there are occasional statements by our lead characters, particularly in Star Trek: The Next Generation, about how the economy has evolved beyond money. As I have pointed out elsewhere, this is an unfortunate bit of pseudo-science: “A complex, technologically advanced economy that runs without money, prices, and markets is like a starship powered by a perpetual motion machine.” There’s a more detailed takedown at Hot Air which asks: “Who Mines the Dilithium?”
Some of this was toned down as The Next Generation got its dramatic feet under it and the writers gradually disentangled themselves from the mandates of Gene Rodenberry’s liberal utopianism. When you have to take an idea and project it into concrete terms, you quickly discover what really makes sense and what just doesn’t work. For example, having an empath as a part of the command team seems like a great idea — until you discover that she is only really capable of delivering the most banal insights. So that element of the story is downgraded. The same happened as Star Trek continued, particularly with the Ferengi, a race of galactic traders who start out as a crude anti-capitalist caricature (which borrowed uncomfortably from Nazi caricatures of Jewish bankers). Over the course of the franchise, particularly in Deep Space Nine, they were humanized (so to speak) and transformed more into lovable rogues, while Quark’s bar provided Deep Space Nine with its thriving commercial hub.
It’s important to draw a distinction between what a work of art tells you and what it shows you. In the world of Star Trek, there are a few, infrequent references in which we are told that the economy works (somehow) without prices. But the socialism all happens quietly off screen, and it’s not what the show is actually about. The show is about the culture and approach to life of those on board the Enterprise (or the other vessels in later spin-off series). And the culture of the Federation bears none of the hallmarks of a socialist society.
When people are provided with a guaranteed living, whether they work or not, they don’t generally devote themselves to self-improvement, the betterment of mankind, the writing of deathless poetry, or the peaceful exploration of the galaxy. Instead, they tend to stop working, striving, or putting forth any effort at all, not even the effort of changing out of their pajamas in the morning. To the extent they do work, since effort has been disconnected from reward, they tend to avoid as much effort as possible. In the Soviet Union, there was an old joke: “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.” And when rewards and advancement are no longer connected to a person’s productivity, they tend to be distributed according to an alternative currency of political pull. So all organizations end up being run by preening politicians, scheming bureaucrats, and drone-like functionaries who are skilled at pushing paper and going through the motions of production rather than actually producing anything.
What we are shown on Star Trek is the opposite. As Virginia Postrel has pointed out, based on a survey of her readers, the actual appeal of Star Trek is that it presents a kind of ideal capitalist workplace.
In Star Trek, the work is meaningful; the colleagues are smart, hard-working, competent and respectful; the leaders are capable and fair; and everyone has an important contribution to make…. Deep friendships develop from teamwork and high-stakes problem-solving. It’s the workplace as we wish it were.
November 2, 2014
In Forbes, Tim Worstall looks at how the World Economic Forum came up with their scary conclusions that the pay gap between men and women won’t disappear until 2095:
And that’s it: no, really, that is what they’re basing, in its entirety, their estimations of the gender pay gap upon. They asked a few people whether they thought that men and women got roughly the same pay for roughly the same sort of job or not and that’s it. This isn’t cutting edge data science to put it very kindly indeed.
For when we go off and look at the messy details of the gender pay gap we find that we’ve not really got one, not in the industrialised countries. Once we correct for the obvious things like hours at work, years in the workforce, educational background and so on we find that the mythical gender pay gap (that “women earn 77 cents to every $ men do”) simply disappears. There might be a small residual, a few percent, left in there but not enough that we can really notice. And quite apart from anything else it’s actually illegal to pay men and women different amounts for doing the same job (if on the basis that the different pay is purely as a result of their being men or women that is).
So, no, we shouldn’t be taking this report or finding seriously. And there’s more than just the fact that they’re using a survey to measure that gap. For of course the printing of this report will lead to, as the other incorrect claims about the gender pay gap do, a certain circularity of reasoning.
Ask someone: “Are men and women paid equally?” And they’ll start thinking about whoever it was that said that 77 cents line, recall that last year the WEF said that gender pay inequality was very bad indeed. So, now we come to asking them the same question for the next WEF survey and their answer will be influenced by the cacophony of voices that have been telling them how bad the gender pay disparity is. Including, obviously, last year’s WEF report that said so. It’s entirely circular and self-reinforcing.
Really, we shouldn’t be taking this stuff seriously.
October 28, 2014
It is interesting to observe — in oneself — the power of media to implant false impressions on a lazy mind. I noticed this from listening to a television speech by Stephen Harper, after the terrorist event in Ottawa, yesterday. (Harper has now been Canada’s prime minister for almost nine years.) He was described as “shaken” by several of the websites I had consulted for news, and in quickly reviewing the tape of his short talk, I formed that impression myself. It was only when an American correspondent, who had perhaps missed this Canadian media prep, told me Harper did not look shaken to him, that I went back and watched the video again, this time paying close attention to his delivery in both English and French. I realized he was not shaken at all; that his pauses and swallows were characteristic, and would not have been noticed by anyone had he been speaking on any other subject.
What impressed me, was how easily I fell for the “media narrative” on Harper’s speech, simply by paying insufficient attention. At the back of my mind I was assuming there must be some truth in it, when I ought to be aware that the media specialize in analyses which contain no truth at all. When I am paying attention, with the benefit of my own long experience within the media, I am able to identify the game, and understand what the players are up to.
David Warren, “Ottawa in the news”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-10-23.